America's Promise releases report on improving the financial aid system


Even as the importance of obtaining post-secondary education increases, current and prospective students—especially those from lower income families—face formidable financial obstacles. As part of the 2013 Building A Grad Nation Summit, America's Promise conducted a "fishbowl" roundtable discussion, Re-Imagining the Financial Aid System, supported through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of its Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery (RADD) initiative. To summarize the key themes that emerged during the session, America’s Promise released a report: Improving the Financial Aid System to Increase College Completion.

Now, like at no other time in our history, post-secondary education is key to the financial security of individuals, the vitality of local communities, and the ability of the nation to field a workforce with the knowledge and skills to compete successfully in a globalized economy. At both public and private universities, tuition costs continue to rise, placing many schools at a level that families are often unable to afford without assistance. And for too many Americans, the post-secondary financial aid system has failed to realize its promise of narrowing the opportunity gap and has even created some new challenges.

For a variety of reasons, students and families are finding it difficult to be smart consumers when it comes to choosing a college that provides a quality education at a reasonable cost. Many students end up saddled with enormous college debt. Others who avoid student loan burdens run out of resources before they can earn a degree. Still others – including many from lower income backgrounds – don’t apply to elite schools because they are unaware of financial aid packages that could make these colleges affordable. And some find the system so intimidating that they needlessly miss opportunities to attend any four-year college at all despite their academic qualifications.

In February 2013, America’s Promise hosted its third annual Building a Grad Nation Summit. As part of the Summit, America’s Promise convened a unique roundtable discussion on “Re-Imagining the Financial Aid System,” to discuss exactly the types of issues described above. The session brought together 23 participants with diverse perspectives, including students, high school counselors, college financial advisers, researchers, businesspeople, and leaders of both national and community-based organizations focused on helping students access and succeed in college. It was supported through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as part of its Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery (RADD) initiative.  The goal of the RADD initiative is to provide policy recommendations for improving financial aid, so that more young people can attend college, become successful students and ultimately earn valuable post-secondary degrees and credentials.